Something good happened to me this week – I had a motoring fine quashed. Yay me.
It didn’t just happen though, I had to appeal to the council that issued the fine, and then the adjudicator. This involved looking at the evidence – you get a photo with the letter and a link to a video – doing research and putting together an appeal, which was uploaded to the council website. Then you wait.
Here’s the background. I was caught on CCTV driving into a what’s known as a bus gate. I’d never heard of these before, but they’re basically a section of road that’s only open to buses, mini-busses and taxis at certain times. I was in a car, so that’s it, offence committed.
There were a few reasons why I appealed, the main one being that the signage isn’t very clear as there’s a cycle lane alongside the affected bit of road, and the red and white ‘no motor vehicles’ sign is next to this. It’s a bit confusing and I hadn’t seen when I drove up the road. It was also a Sunday and there was hardly any other traffic around.
That appeal was knocked back as the council disagreed with me. In their opinion, the sign was correctly sited, and it was up to me to take notice of it. Fair enough. Or so they thought.
So, back to square one. I re-read all the paperwork they’d sent me and started the process again (if you’re still reading this, you’re probably wondering what this has got to do with the title. Bear with me – it’s coming).
I then re-read the original letter notifying me of the fine. It said: ‘my vehicle was involved in the following bus lane contravention’ followed by the stretch of road where I’d been photographed. However, the second letter from the council referred to the bit of road as a ‘bus gate’ not a ‘bus lane’ (there was no mention of a bus gate on the first letter – I only knew it was called that after some research).
Feeling confused, I went to the council website to clear up whether it was bus gate or bus lane I’d driven on to, and if it made any difference. It was indeed a bus gate according to their website, so I thought I’d have a look what they say about bus lanes on the site.
Here it is, lifted directly: ‘Bus lanes are marked with a white line and the words “Bus Lane” marked on the road. A section of broken white lines in the bus lane means it is permitted for vehicles to cross the bus lane to turn left or into an adjacent loading bay.’
I looked at the photo they’d supplied again. And the video. There was no ‘Bus Lane’ marked on the road and no white lines. That was it – I could appeal based on the fact I’d not committed the offence.
The council decided not to contest my appeal.
So, here’s where the title of this blog comes in. The words on the letter were very specific about the offence that had been committed, yet the council hadn’t made sure the words on their website were watertight. It cost them money in this case, although I’m sure they won’t be too bothered as I’ve read reports of this particular bus gate raising about £9m a year.
The wrong words can cost you money by not attracting people to try what you’re selling. They might not even be able to understand what that is. If people don’t know what you do, or your words are boring, they’ll go elsewhere. To the place where the right words are.
As a copywriter, it’s your job to write the words (obviously) on a website. Usually people come to you as the last bit of the jigsaw when they’ve already got the design and structure of the site worked out, so you know what pages need copy. Simple.
But there are times when you’re asked to get involved a little earlier on, even right at the start of a project. If this does happen, should you include design suggestions on your copy document? Websites are perfect for this as when you write for print, you’re far more limited in what you can do.
For example, if you think particular sections would look great in an accordion or a carrousel do you add this in a comment box for the designer to add in? Do you indicate where boxes should be or think an image or video in a particular spot would look great? And if you’ve got an idea of the type of image or video, do they get suggested too?
There’s no clear answer to this. It depends on you, the project and the designer you’re working with. If the circumstances allow, then do it. The designer might appreciate your input and if not, they can always ignore it!
The best projects are where collaboration happens and you work together. Bouncing ideas off each other helps you arrive at the best look and feel for the site. You’re both experienced, creative people so use each other.
One of the best ways to do this as a writer is to study screenplays. Writers of these more often than not include notes for the director. Scenes include individual characters’ point of view, suggestions of what to focus on, and so on. Directors will then decide how to interpret these. They might feel particular shots will benefit from certain angles or lighting or might simply follow the screenwriter’s directions. A great writer and great director can be a great team making great movies.
And it’s the same when a website’s built. The copywriter is the screenwriter and the designer is the director, and together you can build great websites.
Here’s a question: have you ever needed help to “plan, climb and summit your very own business growth mountain”?
Like me, you probably can’t answer as you haven’t a clue what it means.
This was a statement from one of the BBC Apprentice’s contestant’s business plans on last night’s (16/12/15) show, who also claimed it was a ‘unique proposition’. Yet no-one – including a number of the UK’s keenest business minds – knew what they were talking about. Indeed one interviewer went so far as to call his claims as ‘bulls***’. When questioned further, digital marketing owner Richard Woods, revealed his grand plan was to be an outsourced marketing department for SMEs and spend the whole of their marketing budget to get them the sales they need.
So why didn’t he just say that?
Like a lot of business owners, he probably feels the need to fluff up his language to make it sound more grandiose and meaningful than it actually is. But the problem is with this approach, is that people can’t grasp what you’re talking about. And if those people are potential investors like Lord Sugar or potential customers, they’re not going to give you any of their hard-earned pennies.
The internet is stuffed with websites full of these weasel words and statements you can’t make head or tail of no matter how many times you read them. Customers won’t read them more the once – they’ll just move on and find someone else.
I’d like to see a world where we don’t see horrible phrases like ‘we empower your brand to always inspire’ or my personal pet hates ‘low-hanging fruit’ and ‘synergy’ anywhere. Keeping things simple gets better results and makes the world a much nicer place.
As a copywriter, I really hate it when a client wants their copy to be formal. There’s nothing wrong with copy being formal –it’s peoples’ perceptions of what formal is that’s usually wrong. What they call formal, I call boring.
Copy like this will hold very little appeal to consumers. It’ll be stodgy and dull. And it probably won’t get read.
Great copy captures the essence of your brand and offers readers a connection. It should grab their attention, appeal to their dreams, and tell them what you can do for them. Formal copy doesn’t usually do this.
It’s all about tone. You can be playful, quirky and edgy but still be professional. Your target market will love you because you’re different. Disrupt the market. Make people talk about you. Many industries are dominated by companies that rejoice in having woolly websites, tedious tweets and bland brochures. If yours sticks out, you’ll be noticed.
Remember people read your website, not robots. Emotional beings who’ll make an instant decision whether or not to read on and buy from you. Instead of being formal and telling them all about your business in a way that’s not very interesting, try writing it from your readers’ point of view. Make them feel special for choosing you or that they’re in your club. Research how they speak and what phrases they use. Know your market and what they like. Appeal to them.
The key is balancing the professional with your personality. Be friendly but not their friend. Be informative but not patronising. Be edgy but not offensive. You need to communicate what you do but find the right style to suit.
That’s why you shouldn’t insist on your copy being too formal.